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Modern guns

There are guns and there are guns. Depends on what one wants to shoot. If one wants to carry a gun for self-defence (or homicide) then the weapon would be in the category of ‘hand gun” ranging from the automatic pistol to sporting rifle for big game hunting with the close-quarter battle carbine in the middle.

In warfare the personal weapons carried by soldiers-rifle and  carbine-are called “small arms” inclusive of every type from automatic hand gun up to the long-range sniper rifle. Generically they are weapons carried by the Infantry or foot soldiers.

The other guns relate to the ponderous, noisy and dreadfully destructive artillery which again is either towed or is self-propelled and is subdivided into “line-of-sight” weapons that shoot in a straight line.

The others are high-trajectory artillery known as howitzers. In modern artillery regiments the cartridge and shell are fused. The cartridge leaves the barrel when the gun is fired from a side outlet while the shell heads for the direction it is pointed.  
How far it will go or how long it will remain in flight depends on the ballistic characteristics of the projectile and the velocity generated within the barrel. If the barrel is grooved there will be friction and loss of velocity and range but it will be a more accurate projectile.  

Many tank guns especially have been made smoothbore so as not to impede the passage of the projectile in the barrel and a sabot or sleeve is wrapped around the shell which separates as soon as the shell leaves the barrel.

All of this is intended to expose how complicated the act of firing can be. Producing them will demand of the producer an acute and in depth knowledge of metallurgy in particular (even the Jabalpur Ordnance Factory which converted the blueprints of the Bofors howitzer into a prototype was deficient in the knowledge of heat-treatment of the barrel so that it does not suffer damage on account of the intense heat within the barrel).

With regard to the howitzer, its peculiarity is that the barrel can be elevated to allow the shell to surmount an intermediate barrier between its position and the target e.g a mountain crest.

Design concept

Having said this, one must move on to being able to conceptualize, design and manufacture these types of guns to be able to put up a good fight till the enemy runs out of ammunition.

India made a maiden venture with the Indian National Small Arms System under which it introduced the 5.56mm rifle/(shifting from the 7.62 mm caliber of the Ichhapore Rifle) and carbine that was both too loud and showed a large flash when firing. It was discarded.

A new ‘modern submachine carbine’ has been created by the Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE) at Pune and is awaiting clearance from the Army-an unusually reversed procedure-which could see its project axed on turf and protocol considerations alone. In any case it appears to have beaten the gun in the likely mad rush by the private sector to sally into production for the Defence forces now that the Foreign Direct Investment has been raised from 26 per cent to 49 per cent.

These are clear indications that there could be stiff competition between the Defence Public Sector Undertaking backed by the string of laboratories of the Defence Research and Development Organisation which could, after the salutary advice tendered by the new Defence Minister finally pull up its socks and deliver the many products that have been in the making for decades.

Joint ventures and co-development and co-production have in many cases been already hammered out between the Indian “Mini Ratnas” (Little Jewels) in the Defence sector as different from the “Maha Ratnas” or high performers in the other sectors of the Indian economy.

Guns seem to be the flavor of the moment. Handguns, imported Bofors, indigenous Bofors and Bofors lookalikes are being readied to be paraded for final selection by the Indian Army that is suddenly been flooded with choices.

The other much copied cat is the dubious mine-protected vehicle which time and again has been so badly damaged that its passengers, if they have survived the blast of the mine would have suffered very serious injuries and would be unable to fight. There is, therefore, a dire need for consultation between all stakeholders about what they want with very clear qualitative staff requirements on which production is based.   

Better options

From debating endlessly and fruitlessly on whether to allow the private sector to participate in the creation of lethal arms, the doors have been flung open in the hope that the makers of the world’s most charismatic small arms like the Beretta (James Bond’s personal choice), the Luger, Smith and Wesson, Colt, Uzi and Tavor and a host of others of equal repute will line up. How many have been banned from entering the Indian arms market for violation of contractual obligations is a matter of record.

Many of these foreign products are already in the hands of the Indian Army as well as the Central Police Organisations involved in counter-insurgency operation. India has made heavy investment to buy the most suitable weapon for a given situation.

Weapons development calls for a great deal of investment and it is for this reason the private sector did not want to enter the business. Now, with a 49 per cent foreign direct investment things are expected to change. The DRDO has been trying to be forward looking by proposing the creation of an indigenous advanced towed artillery gun system that will be of 155 x 52 calibres capable of a range of 60 km.

Representatives of Indian companies that have been working with the armed forces for some years now-Tata, Mahindra, Bharat Forge, Larson and Toubro, Bharat Earth Movers Ltd and Bharat Electronics Ltd-have held synergy sessions to understand futuristic requirements of the Indian armed forces and how to achieve production of Indian designed and developed defence products.

The government needs to be prepared to hasten the process of selection of contractors and if dubious means have been employed to secure the contract something other than banning the company must be worked out because this processes under the Defence Procurement  Procedure is counter-productive if the product does not reach the armed forces.

Another point at issue is the attitude of the government to allow the joint venture partnership to sell their wares abroad to improve their balance sheet. India has hitherto refused to supply lethal weapons to any country be it as close as Sri Lanka. As a result India has lost diplomatic ground to Pakistan and China who supplied Colombo with all the heavy military wherewithal to fight the notorious Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and crush them.

Government has said that it has received requests for the purchase of the Brahmos missile and is examining the requests on a case-by-case basis. It will have to be extremely clear about the appreciation of the ground situation where the Indian product is to be positioned.